As you all know, I love to bake bread. It is so much fun, and it is one item I think is so different from store bought that after eating it you can’t go back. When I first started to be interested in bread baking, I took a Craftsy class from Peter Reinhart on bread baking. He’s wonderful at explaining all the intricacies of making bread and this recipe comes from this book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The class format allowed us to ask him questions and get feedback on our bread, and it was immensely helpful to me in improving my skills.
Making baguettes at home takes some time and some patience, but it is well worth it. These loaves have an open crumb, so much flavor and a lovely chewiness. I wanted to make a charcuterie board for dinner tonight, and really wanted a few baguettes to go with it. If you are new to baking bread, and want a tutorial on the basics, check out my post here.
Good baguettes start with a pre-ferment. A pre-ferment is exactly what it sounds like. A portion of dough that is allowed to ferment ahead of time. There are different types. This recipe uses a pâte fermentée, which is really just simple French bread dough. This adds flavor to the bread and also helps the bread’s structure. The pre-ferment for these loaves can be made in as little as 2 hours, but it is best to make it a few days ahead and let it sit in the fridge. I’ve experimented with letting it rest 1, 2 and 3 days and 3 days gives the best flavor. Above is my trusty pre-ferment after 3 days in the fridge. See all the little air bubbles? Those are signs it has been fermenting away.
When the pre-ferment is ready, it is mixed with the rest of the dough ingredients and kneaded and allowed to rise. Then shaped into baguette loaves and allowed to proof again. You can shape the loaves using a couche, like I am using here, which helps the loaves keep their shape while rising. You can also just shape them and let them rise on the back of a cookie sheet, which I have also done, and they still come out beautifully.
You can tell the loaves are ready for the oven when you poke them gently and they don’t spring back very much. Baguettes get baked in a very hot oven, with steam. This helps push the yeast to release their gasses quickly and gives a good rise and open crumb. I bake mine on a pizza steel, or you can use a baking stone. You can also put a cookie sheet upside down in the oven and preheat that to bake on if you don’t have a steel or stone.
In order to create steam in the oven, place a metal pan or cast iron skillet on the rack under the one you are baking on. When it is time to bake, pour some water into the hot pan to generate steam. I also mist my loaves with water during the first 5 minutes of baking. The purpose of the steam is to keep the outside the bread moist initially to allow it keep expanding as it heats up.
One note on measuring for bread. You can measure in cups and be just fine, but I like to measure using my scale. It is more precise and helps avoid dough being too flour heavy. I use this one. I am always open for questions about the process of baking bread, either in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It can be daunting at first, but it is so satisfying once you get going.
For the pre-ferment:
- 1 1/4 cup AP flour 142g
- 1 1/4 cup bread flour 142g
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp water
For the baguettes:
- 3 cups pate fermentee all of the preferment
- 1 1/4 cups bread flour 142g
- 1 1/4 cups AP flour 142g
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp water
For the pate fermentee:
- Add the ingredients to a stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix until it comes together into a cohesive ball. Add a bit of flour or water until you have a soft, supple dough. It should not be too stiff.
- Knead for 5-6 minutes on medium low, or until it becomes a smooth ball. Transfer to a gallon ziploc sprayed with plenty of oil spray.
- Leave out on the counter for an hour, then place in the fridge overnight or up to 3 days. If you are short on time, let sit out at room temp for at least 2 hours and then proceed.
For the baguettes:
- Remove the pre-ferment from the oven an hour before you want to start so it can warm up.
- Place all of the pate fermentee and the other bread ingredients into the stand mixer with dough hook.
- Knead on medium low and until the dough forms a smooth ball. Adjust flour/water as needed to get a smooth, flexible dough. There is a fair amount of water in the dough, so the dough ball should spread out when you stop the mixer. If your ball holds its shape, add small amounts of water until it is a more loose dough.
- Continue kneading until it passes the windowpane test.
- Place the dough into a large bowl or dough rising bucket sprayed with oil spray. Cover with a cover or plastic wrap.
- After 30 minutes, stretch and fold the dough (google for videos on how to do this) and return to the bowl. Repeat this 30 min rest and stretch and fold cycle 3 more times.
- Allow the dough to rise for about an hour until doubled. Preheat oven to 500 degrees and place in pizza steel if using.
- Transfer dough to a floured countertop. Cut into 3 equal pieces. Shape each into a baguette shape (youtube or google is your friend here too). Place shaped loaves into a floured couche or onto a parchment lined back of a sheet pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap if using sheet pan.
- Allow to rise for 45 min to 1 hour until the dough only springs back slightly when you poke it and the loaves are about 1.5 times the size of the original. Score the tops of the loaves in 3 shallow lines long ways.
- Slide the baguettes onto the pizza steel and add 1/2 cup water to the water pan (do not use glass ever for the water pan, even oven safe glass). Spray them a few times with water in the first 5 minutes.
- After 5 minutes lower the heat to 450 and bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the loaves. Continue baking until they are nicely darkened and 205 degrees internally. Cool on a cooling rack and serve as soon as possible.
- These can be frozen wrapped in plastic wrap and sealed in an airtight bag.